Students and faculty at Georgetown University are upset about a satirical article in the school's humor magazine that depicts members of the student newspaper as Ku Klux Klan members at a cross burning. The article also references "dark, human-shaped piñatas" and talks about members of the black student union being sprayed with water from a fire hose.
From the Georgetown Heckler:
The event began Friday with the staff's traditional procession under the dark of night from the Leavey Center, with everyone wearing the traditional costume of a flowing white robe, white hood, and white mask, portraying the "ghosts of Christmas past."
"It's a time to remember our great tradition, but it's also a time to remember some of the darkness that hangs over our past," Hoya Features Editor Emma Richards (COL '12) said. "It feels cathartic to put on this white hood. It's about us coming together as one and exterminating these dark figures of the past that seem to loom over us."
According to an interview, Jheanelle Brown, 21, a senior and president of the Georgetown NAACP, said Georgetown is "is already a very hostile climate for black people."
Brown said black students often feel unfairly targeted when they have to get more campus security for their events than other groups, while fighting the peer misconception that they didn't earn their way to the university.
From the assumption that ethnic studies classes are less academically rigorous to the belief that all students of color major in those courses, "everything goes back to making me feel I don't belong here, that you only got here because you are black," added Brown.
Editors at the Heckler say the article was supposed to make fun of the student newspaper for publishing an April fool's issue that was criticized as being racist and sexist:
"They didn't really understand the point, which was not to be racist but to satirize racism itself," Jack Stuef, editor of the Heckler, told the Associated Press. "We still stand behind our point in the article that we think racism exists on campus."
After reading the article, though, I, too, can say that in addition to being insensitive, it simply isn't funny.
I know everyone wants to produce satire in the age of Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, but it not easily achieved. Colbert says outrageously ridiculous things in his portentous, haughty and conservative alter ego; however, it's clear that Colbert knows how to walk the fine satirical line between being offensive and being funny. (Let's not forget that he has a team of writers.) Colbert also makes fun of everyone. He mocks conservatives for their views while holding up his satirical mirror at liberals for how they think about conservatives.
With quotes like the one below, it seems that the folks at the Heckler just don't know where that line is:
One of the hooded figures, apparently new Editor-in-Chief Paul Buckley (COL '11), gave a short speech to the crowd. "From now on we go forward free of the black marks on our past," he said. "We stand here united in these pure white robes and realize we are now pure and whi-upright, standing on our feet as a newspaper once again."
In one final act of symbolic ceremony, Buckley took off his robe and rubbed his face and arms in shoe polish. "I is the stupid dark demon that be hauntin' you!" he yelled in a strange voice. "Be smart and independent and pure, young Hoya staffers!" He was clubbed to the ground with plastic bats.
Finally the huge burning cross was extinguished with a fire hose, but first the hose somehow malfunctioned and shot water at members of the Black Student Alliance who were walking back from a meeting, knocking them over and causing injuries.
Brown said that the Heckler's argument -- it was satire and critics don't understand -- just added more fuel to the fire:
"When people complained about the article and we had a forum, [the Heckler editor] was trying to explain to us what satire was. I had to say, 'We understand satire, and that argument doesn't make the dialogue productive because you are underestimating our intelligence,'" said Brown. "I don't know anyone who laughs at themselves more than black people. The problem is that the article was insensitive and not effective on a satirical level."
The university also criticized the article:
"We condemn these attempts at humor, which ridicule people based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual orientation and which promote violence," Georgetown Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson said in a statement that described the article as "hurtful and potentially destructive."
It would be a waste if students just complained and then forgot about this incident. Brown hopes that what comes out of this is a dialogue about the misconceptions that surround students of color. She also hopes that it raises issues about diversity on campus and the diversity of organizations and publications, such as the school newspaper and magazine.
"Hopefully, this incident will help get people to look at these issues in terms of their bigger role in our world," Brown said.